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I was wondering how many postage stamps it would require to send a letter from Japan to the US (and vice versa) around 1945, and during the occupation? And perhaps you might know what the stamps looked like and/or cost? Thank you!

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    Are you asking about a Japanese civilian sending a letter to the USA, or an American soldier writting home? Armies often have their own postal services. – SJuan76 Mar 11 at 22:29
  • SJuan76 - It would be for an American soldier writting home. – Ellie Mar 14 at 15:43
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I have an envelope (and the letter within) cancelled aboard USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept 2, 1945, sent via air mail to Norfolk VA. It has a six cent air mail stamp. See below, gently censored just because I feel like it.

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I'd have to go find another box of mail to see what it cost to send a return letter. . . it's probably in the attic somewhere. I've about 90% of the correspondence between my parents, from December 1941 through October 1945 when my father came home.

Looking at a stack from the beginning of June 1945 through the end of October, 31 letters my father sent home while he as on the staff of the 2nd Carrier Task Force, AKA TF-38, ALL of those envelopes sport the six cent air mail stamp.

If I reach back to mid 1943 when he was at Guadalcanal with VF-11, all the envelopes are franked, that is the word "Free" written where one might normally see a stamp.

Starting in 1942, first class mail from active duty personnel regardless of location was free. If someone on active duty wanted to send a letter via airmail, it did, indeed, cost 6 cents, also from early 1942. In both cases the service member's name, rank, organization and PO had to appear in the return address.

Adding some more after sniffing around a bit . . .

From the US Navy Bureau of Navigation Bulletin, February 1942, pages 63 & 65

*“POSTAGE RATES “RATES OF POSTAGE ON AIR MAIL TO AND FROM PERSONNEL U. S. ARMED FORCES CONTINENTAL UNITED STATES

“Office of the Postmaster General Washington, December 23, 1941

“Order No. 16604.

“Section 511, Postal Laws and Regulations of 1940, is amended by the addition of the following as paragraph 3½:

“3½. The rate of postage on matter carried by airplane to and from personnel of the armed forces of the United States stationed outside the continental United States, including transportation of the mail to and from the air-mail routes, shall be 6 cents for each half ounce or fraction thereof. This rate shall apply to all air mail sent to or by such forces when deposited at any place where the United States mail service is in operation addressed to any other place where the United States mail service is in operation, but this shall not affect the present air-mail rate to and from Alaska.

“Third Assistant Postmaster General Washington, December 23, 1941

“Instructions

“In connection with Order No. 16604, dated December 23, 1941, amending section 511, Postal Laws and Regulations of 1940, to provide a postage rate of 6 cents for each half ounce for air mail sent to and from the personnel of our armed forces stationed outside the continental United States, the instructions heretofore published regarding the rates of postage on air mail to and from such forces stations at leased bases, etc., are modified accordingly. It should be noted particularly that the new rate is 6 cents per half ounce. This amendment does not modify or in any way affect the rate of postage applicable to any point, including Alaska, to which air mail is now carried at the rate of 6 cents for each ounce.

“The new rate applies only to air mail sent to and by the personnel of the armed forces. It does not apply to the mail of civilians stationed at these points outside the continental United States. In order, therefore, that mail sent to and from the personnel of the armed forces may be recognized as entitled to the new rate, it must show in the address or in the return card, as the case may be, the rank of the individual member of the armed forces receiving or sending such matter and the military or naval unit to which he is assigned.

“RATE OF POSTAGE ON FOURTH-CLASS MATTER ADDRESSED TO PERSONNEL OF THE U. S. ARMED FORCES STATION OUTSIDE CONTINENTAL UNITED STATES.

“Office of the Postmaster General Washington, December 23, 1941

“ORDER No. 16005

“Parcels of fourth-class matter addressed to the personnel of the armed forces of the United States station at leased bases or naval vessels or other places outside the continental United States where the domestic mail service may be in operation shall be chargeable with postage at the fourth-class zone rate applicable between the post office where mailed and the post office at the port from which the parcels are transported by ship.

“Third Assistant Postmaster General Washington, December 23, 1941

“Instructions

“In connection with Order No. 16605, dated December 23, 1941, the instruction heretofore issued with respect to the rate of postage applicable to parcel post mail for American forces, addressed in care of the Postmaster at New York New York, are modified and hereafter parcels of fourth-class matter addressed to the personnel of the armed forces of the United States stationed at leased bases or on naval vessels or other places outside the continental United States where the domestic mail service may be in operation shall be chargeable with postage at the fourth-class zone rate applicable between the post office where mailed and post office at the port from which the parcels are transported by ship, regardless of whether the parcels are addressed in care of the Postmaster of New York, San Francisco, or the post office at some other port.

“In the absence of information to the contrary, parcels for forces in the Atlantic area may be regarded as being served through the port of New York and those in the Pacific area as served the port of San Francisco and postage may, therefore, be computed according to the zone application between the point of mailing and the post offices at New York and San Francisco, respectively. Such parcels will then be transmitted to the addresses without additional charge for postage.

“The foregoing applies only to parcels sent to the personnel of the armed forces of the United States stationed at places outside the continental United States where the domestic mail service is in operation. In order that parcels sent to such forces may be recognized as entitled to the rate of postage herein referred to, the parcels must show in the address the rank of the member of the armed forces and the military or naval unit to which he is assigned.

“Parcels addressed to members of the armed forces stationed outside the continental United States should not be so large as to prevent their being placed in regular mail sacks.”*

From the US Navy Bureau of Navigation Bulletin, May 1942, page 31

“AMENDMENT TO THE POSTAL LAWS AND REGULATIONS

“Letters from Members or the U. S. Military and Naval Forces. Transmission in Mails Free of Postage.

“Order No. 17352

“Section 515, Postal Laws and Regulations is amended by the addition of the following paragraphs 3 and 4:

“3. Any first-class letter matter admissible to the mails as ordinary mail matter which is sent by a member of the military or naval forces of the United States (including the United States Coast Guard), while on active duty or in the active military or naval service of the United States, to any person in the United States, including the Territories and possessions thereof, shall be transmitted in the mails free of postage subject to such rules and regulations as the Postmaster General shall prescribe. (Act of March 27, 1942, sec. 901, Public No. 407, 77th Cong.)

“4. Letters sent by members of the military or naval forces of the United States, to be mailed free of postage under the conditions set forth in paragraph 3 of this section, shall bear in the upper right corner the word “FREE” and in the upper left corner the name of the sender together with his rank or rating and the designation of the service to which he belongs, as, for example, Private John Doe, U. S. Army, or John Doe, Seaman 2C1., U. S. Navy, or Private John Doe, U. S. Marine Corps, or John Doe, Seaman 2nd C1. United States Coast Guard. Such letters shall be so accepted when deposited in the mails in the United States or its possessions or at any place outside the continental United States where the United States mail service is in operation addressed to any other place where this service is in operation, including army and navy bases, naval vessels, etc. Messages on post cards may be accepted under this provision but it shall not apply to packages or parcels or any matter other than messages in the form of ordinary letters or cards. This free mailing privilege does not apply to matter sent by air mail, nor to any matter sent to the members of the military or naval forces by persons who are not members thereof.”

From the US Navy Bureau of Naval Personnel Bulletin (formerly the Bureau of Navigation Bulletin), April 1943, page 17, an article about the efficacy of the V-Mail system (fodder for a different discussion) ends with a clarifying admonishment regarding standard mail:

“Some misunderstanding appears to exist as to the rate of postage on air mail addressed to members of naval forces. When such matter is addressed in “care of fleet post office” New York or San Francisco, it may be assumed that the addressee is overseas and therefore, postage at the rate of six cents for each one-half ounce or fraction thereof is applicable. If air mail is addressed to naval personnel or others within the continental United States it is subject to postage at the rate of six cents for each ounce or fraction thereof.

“First-class letter mail sent by members of United States military or naval forces on active duty will be transmitted free of postage. This includes ordinary letters or post cards, but excludes airmail and packages or parcels. Letters should be inscribed as follows: Upper left-hand corner, “John Doe, S2c, USN,” upper right corner the word “free.” This privilege does not apply to any matter sent to members of armed forces by persons not members thereof.

“The United States post office on July 10, 1942, ruled that the inscription on letters mailed by members of the armed forces should be in the handwriting of the sender in order to be accepted free of postage. Previously a, number of activities prepared envelopes with the word “free” inscribed thereon. The postmaster general then issued an order on August 17, 1942, ordering that such cards and envelopes already printed with the name of the sender, the rank or rating, description of the service to which he belongs, and the word “free” would be accepted for mailing until the supply on hand was exhausted, with the understanding that thereafter these inscriptions would be hand written. In accordance with this ruling, members of the naval service should remember they are entitled to the free mailing privilege only when the letters are addressed in the handwriting of the sender.”

Just as an aside, page 43 of this same issue has an interesting side bar on how to address letters to US POWs held by the Japanese in the Philippines and some tips on what to say and what not to.

From the US Navy Bureau of Naval Personnel Bulletin “All Hands”, August 1945, page 77

“Airmail May Be Sent COD If Stamps Not Available “To facilitate speedy forwarding of airmail letters of personnel in the naval service, CNO has announced that when service personnel do not have access to stamps for airmail letters, such letters may be airmailed without stamps as follows:

“Where neither airmail stamps nor ordinary stamps are available, airmail letters may be sent by personnel of the Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard, located where U. S. mail service is in operation and addressed to places in the United States or any of its possessions. When endorsed “Sailor’s Letter” or “Marine’s Letter” and signed thereunder with facsimile hand stamp or in writing by any commissioned officer attached to the vessel or officer commanding a hospital or detachment ashore, the letter may be sent without prepayment of postage. The airmail rate of postage will be collected upon delivery.”

And last from the US Navy Bureau of Naval Personnel Bulletin “All Hands”, January 1948, page 25

“Free Mailing Privilege Ends for Servicemen “Free mailing privileges for members of the armed forces ended effective 31 Dec 1947, in accordance with Public Law 190,79th Congress. As of 1 Jan 1948, all service personnel are required to affix postage to all personal mail.”

Free mailing privileges for personnel serving outside the continental US was re-introduced later in 1948 in both the House and the Senate and again in 1949, but I am not aware of any of those measures passing.

As far as letters from home to the overseas serviceman (and without going to attic to look – it’s cold up there) I believe these were at the standard first-class rate AFAIK 3, maybe, 4 cents for a standard letter. One could also send via air mail at 6 cents per letter. These went from the sender’s post office to the appropriate Army Post Office or Fleet Post Office on either coast. From there, as far as the Postal Service was concerned, they were delivered and were now in the hands of the service concerned for final delivery.

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